I would like to bring to the table an ethical situation concerning one’s right to privacy and confidentiality with their librarian, and what is right and good for the community.
I was recently working the reference desk at my public library, and was approached by a middle aged man. “Yeah, I was wondering if you guys had any books about how to speak Brazil.”
“Oh, would you like some books or CDs on learning Portuguese?” I responded.
“No, I want to learn how to speak Brazil,” he said abrasively.
“Oh, well sir, they actually speak Portuguese in Brazil. Here let me show you to the section where we have some learning materials on the Portuguese language.”
So I showed him over to the section, and let him select the materials that he wanted. Shortly thereafter, he returned to the reference desk.
“So, I was also wondering if you had any books on how to disappear. Not like the magician’s kind of way of disappearing. But like if I wanted to disappear where no one could ever find me.”
Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what was going on in this situation, and here is where the ethical situation arises. This man could have committed a crime that he is trying to run from, and the authorities could be looking for him. This man could quite possibly be a risk to the community. But then again, these are all “could” statements. I, as his librarian, am obligated to reserve his right to privacy, and help him find whatever materials he requests…right? So I did what I thought was best, and was loyal to my profession, and found him the most suitable books for his request on “how to disappear.” I was actually astounded that there were books on this topic, but low and behold, the man received what he came to the library for.
We as librarians are going to face an array of difficult ethical situations throughout our careers, but with policies such as ALA in place, at least we have some sense of guidance in doing what we think is right.